Eva, a candle maker, daughter, and refugee from Syria.

Maker Update: Creating Something Beautiful

Eva’s story

Eva works with confidence, smoothing the waxy surface of each candle with a heat gun. It’s important to her that each candle she makes is as perfect as it be. It’s a good feeling—to know you have the agency and ability to start from scratch and create something beautiful. 

For Eva, this hasn’t always been the case. War in Syria took her home before she was a teenager. War took away the future she expected and threw her into the unknown. A country she didn’t know. Neighbors she didn’t know, in a refugee camp. Her future was stamped with a giant question mark, all sense of agency gone.

One of Eva’s friends in her refugee camp was working at our artisan hub for makers and told her about it. Eva was intrigued—she applied for a spot, passed the interview phase, and trained for a month in the art of candle making. Today, Eva takes a handful of simple ingredients and creates something beautiful.

Building skills, building community

In a lot of ways, Eva’s story parallels that of our wider work with Syrian and Iraqi makers. 

In 2016 we began working with women in this same refugee camp. The camp provided a roof over their heads, but most of the women had no idea how they would take care of their families. 

We helped each one start a business of their own, and helped them to leverage their skills in making handmade crocheted and knit goods into income. As an experiment, a handful of women who we gathered to crochet together in one of their living rooms, held their first public sales at a local park. It was simple, but the women knew it was the beginning of something for them.

By 2019 we were dreaming together of a welcoming, well-equipped studio space for them to work. That maker space is a busy hive of activity today.

In fact, there is now a community of women (and a handful of men) who are growing their skills, supporting their families, and showing their children opportunities they didn’t know existed. Some makers gather at our artisan hub to work. Some work from home. They make a range of products for our US-based shop and test different products for the local market in northern Iraq. 

A row of small candles made at our maker space in northern Iraq.
The Sisterhood Collection includes a range of candle styles, including these accent candles. Photo by Erin Wilson / Preemptive Love.

2021 Wins

●166 makers–Syrians and Iraqis affected by war–created beautiful handmade products. They crocheted and knit, sewed, carved wood, threw pottery, and of course, poured candle wax. 

● 990 people (approx., family members and dependents) benefitted from the income makers earned with their products.

● 75% of products made were shipped to the US to stock our online shop (and salesroom, if you live near our Empowerment Center in Atlanta). 25% of products were sold locally in northern Iraq. 

Developing the local market 

US-based and international sales are amazing and make it possible to keep our maker space open. But it’s equally important to develop the local market. Local sales provide a quick feedback loop for new products and provide a huge sense of encouragement to makers. A kiosk in a local mall provides a spot to highlight their products and to develop our brand of handmade locally-sourced products. Our team also participated in a dozen bazaars throughout the Kurdistan region, extending opportunities for local sales. 

Makers are regularly able to test out new products to see how they are received and make refinements if necessary. At the end of last year, we launched two new candle collections–fall and Christmas collections–which completely sold out in just a month! 

A row of three candles made in pretty, reusable blue-and-white bowls.
Whenever possible candle vessels are both beautiful and reusable, so purchases are useful long after the candles have been used. Photo by Erin Wilson / Preemptive Love.

Further developing skills

Training sessions at our maker space allow makers to further develop handcraft and business skills, and to expand their opportunities to grow their individual businesses. Community-building activities (from celebration lunches to a “Dream Box” where women can tuck notes describing the dreams they have for themselves and their families) support their mental health and build richer networks.

For Eva, agency and a brighter future

Eva tells us she really enjoys working out of the maker space. And her family is thrilled she has this chance.

She’s able to get out of the house in a place where there’s nowhere for young women to hang out. She can work, and help support her family a short walk from home, all while being around friends. 

Apart from the maker space, there are few work or career opportunities for young women inside the refugee camp. But Eva, and each maker who works with us, has both the agency and ability to start from scratch and create something beautiful.

A candle in a colorful, lidded vessel.
Eva’s beautiful candles, like this one, are available through our online shop. Photo by Chase Moore / Preemptive Love.